Effective Writing

The very best writing advice I ever received is a series of pieces of advice from the book “Becoming an academic writer” by Patricia Goodson. The book is really a series of exercises to become more efficient and proficient in writing. Here are examples of how this book has changed my approach to writing and my own experiences with it, you will find your own list that works for you by following this book:

  • I write every day for at least one hour. Based on one of the early exercises I did from the book (a reflection of how and when I’m the best writer I can be), here’s how I make sure this hour is effective:
    1. I write in the morning, when I’m most creative. Since my lab comes in about 1 to 2 hours after me, it’s a great time to write.
    2. I start with removing a few little to-do’s off of my list, so I feel like I’ve done something and now I can focus entirely on writing. Typically emails or tasks that take less than 10-minutes, but that I’ve been avoiding. I spend at most 20 minutes on these tasks before I move onto writing (which, is on my calendar every day at 10am).
    3. I don’t write for a deadline anymore (in general). Instead I have a list of things I’m writing (papers, abstracts, grants). I just choose the one from the list I’m most excited about working on that day.
    4. I brew myself a cup of tea and have a bit of a snack on hand to make sure I can power through the full hour. Thanks to a recent undergraduate thank you gift I have stacks of wonderful tea to choose from.
    5. I close the door and shut down internet access.
    6. I time myself. I use toggl.com to make sure I fully utilize the hour and I can track whether I spend as much time writing over the course of longer periods of time as I think I do. It’s really amazing how much you can get done in an hour and what you can get done writing a solid 5 hours every week.
  • If I get stuck, I go back to one of the opening 10-minute exercises (like reading about writing)
  • I realize now there are many processes in the writing stage that include editing and reading. My approach to editing has completely changed.
  • Reading about writing exercises have made me much more proficient and the amount of post-editing has significantly decreased.